Rhythm & Views 

Merciless Death

Just when all the best thrash- and death-metal band names--for example, Sublime Cadaveric Decomposition and Gruesome Stuff Relish--have been taken, along come three dudes from Canyon Country, California, with the plain-old-brown-wrapper moniker of Merciless Death (not to be confused with Death Angel, Napalm Death or just plain Death).

The trio's second album, Realm of Terror, on the Heavy Artillery label, is so completely devoted to evoking the sound and fury of '80s thrash that you'll have to look twice at the CD's liner notes to confirm you hadn't accidentally overlooked the purest of those speed-metal acts of yore.

Of course, purity often can be a problem, and much of what Terror offers will be easily dismissed as retro to those with "edgier" tastes. Still, there are undeniable thrills to be had in the sinus-clearing riff coke of "Cult of Doom," a showcase for guitarist Dan Holder's rock-steady yet fascinating minor-chord progressions and drummer Cesar Torres' relentless kit-bashing. Thankfully, singer/bassist Andy Torres ditches the death-metal growl in favor of Slayer-like screaming and pseudo-Satanic lyrics. The devil worship is most pronounced in tracks like "Summoning of the Ancient Ones," which at times sounds as if a gang of Robert E. Howard fans are rehearsing for a metal festival, and "Fall to the Pentagram," the closest thing to a dark ritual I have ever endured.

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